Right Action: The Need for Compassion in Self-Care

Do the right thing. Easy to say, harder to do. Who defines what that is? If you do the wrong thing for the right reasons, does that count? How about if you do the wrong thing for the right reasons? Right Action can be about results, yes, but it’s more about intentions. If you’re aware that what you’re doing is going to hurt someone, including you, don’t do it. More importantly, think about what unintended consequences might arise before you act. Never do anything that you know could end up causing harm.

What is Right Action?

Right Action is the fourth step along the Buddhist Eightfold Path. It’s also the second moral virtue, after Right Speech. This one is pretty easy to grasp: don’t undertake actions that lead to the creation of suffering. It includes basics like don’t steal, don’t kill, and don’t misuse sexuality.

The killing part is debated. Some Buddhists are strict vegetarians, because they feels that all intentional killing violates this ideal. Others, including the Dalai Lama, feel that refusing a kill a sheep to feed a family creates more suffering, and it more unethical than humanely raising animals for food.

Misusing sexuality is another facet that’s open to interpretation. For monks and nuns, it means celibacy. Most Buddhists agree that it extends to honoring marriage vows. The area of debate has to do with certain consensual acts, and the division is largely cultural. Is it okay for single people to have premarital sex? It’s clearly wrong for force people into prostitution, but what becoming a sex worker is a choice? How about homosexuality, and other areas on the LQBTQ+ spectrum? The answer is always “does it lead to the creation of suffering, for yourself or others?”. If the answer is no, have at it.

Right Action as a Catalyst for Self-Care

Think of Right Action as a form of preventive care. It’s a far smaller scale than murder and theft. If you know that eating too much will create health problems down the line, practice moderation. Knowing that drinking to excess, or driving while drunk, could end in injury, death, or incarceration, don’t go down that road. Eat right, exercise, drink enough water, sleep soundly, and meditate. These are Right Actions that alleviate existing suffering, and allow you to avoid the creation of new suffering.

Engaging in self-care is in itself a practice of Right Action. Taking care of your body, mind, and spirit means that you are able to do things for yourself, without the assistance of others. You will be able to better care for others. If you do need help, and you aren’t able to help others, be clear that it’s okay. Just think things through, and don’t willfully engage in reckless actions that could lead to a state of helplessness.

To me, this starts with compassion and empathy. I have compassion for myself; most of us do. I also consider how my actions will affect others. It’s popular these days to say that what happens to other people isn’t your problem. Even if you could have helped. Even if you could have prevented the situation. It’s an abdication of responsibility for others. You’ve got yours, they can go get their own. Personally, I feel terrible when I have to rely on other people because I’ve made poor decisions or taken wrong actions. It’s awful when people are suffering and I can’t help. Expressing compassion is self-care, it’s kindness, and it’s Right Action.

Do You Have Insights on Right Action and Self-Care?

We need to be honest about what our problems are. What areas of our lives are in need of better self-care? If you already have a routine, are the things you’re doing getting you results? What can you do differently that will address your unmet needs, and allow you to alleviate your own suffering? Be sure that the step you take aren’t going to end up causing you a different sort of suffering, or accidentally create suffering for others. Employing Right Action, you can improve your own self-care efforts.

I want to know your thoughts and opinions on this. Please leave your comments below. Maybe we can start a discussion!

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